Here's the fiscal challenge for the Coalition

Here’s the fiscal challenge for the Coalition

Budget seasons is a time for parties to elevate debate above political point scoring and sloganeering, and to outline to the Australian people their respective visions for our future and their agendas for government. For this reason, it’s probably Tony Abbott’s least favourite time of year.

Instead of howling ‘no’ at every policy put forward by the government, Mr Abbott needed to step up as Leader of the Opposition and present an alternative. Instead of using nominal figures and juvenile scare-mongering on the state of the economy, Mr Abbott’s own policies – assuming he has any – will have to undergo scrutiny from the Parliamentary Budget Office and then the Australian public.

Tony Abbott is taking it for granted that he will become Australia’s next Prime Minister in September. This misguided sense of entitlement has distracted him from his current job. It’s simply not good enough for him to persist with catch phrases; he must come clean with the Australian people on his plan to fund his laundry list of bizarre policies.

As Treasury Secretary Martin Parkinson has pointed out, if the Pre-Election Fiscal and Economic Outlook (PEFO) had been released last week, it would have contained precisely the figures that were in the budget. This means that Tony Abbott knows the numbers. The election is now less than four months away, so he must have some idea what his policies are. The Parliamentary Budget Office is standing ready to cost the Opposition’s policies. The time for bluster is over; the time for details has arrived.

The fact is that Australia is facing a significant budgetary challenge, with the high dollar weighing heavily on government revenues. The amount of tax revenue that the Government has collected this year is $17 billion less than was forecast in our Budget last year.

Labor has made the tough decisions to accompany our spending with structural saves; for example by means-testing the private health insurance rebate. This is a structural save which generates more money in the longer term and can be used to support important priorities like DisabilityCare.

Only Labor has put forward a plan to make sure no Australian will be left behind, through introducing initiatives such as DisabilityCare, the National Plan for School Improvement and increases to pensions and superannuation. We know these are important investments in Australia’s future and we know the value of achieving these reforms now. The Coalition does not share this vision. It persists with their policy of giving tax cuts to big miners and big polluters, which must ultimately be paid for by middle Australia.

The Opposition doesn’t want to take these tough decisions before the election, because they know that Australians will be concerned with their plans to drastically cut spending. If Mr Abbott wants to be taken seriously as a manager of the economy, he should have used his budget reply to outline the tough decisions he will take and the details of how he will fund his policies. Unfortunately, he spent too much time talking the Australian economy down, and not enough time outlining the cuts he will need to make. Mr Abbott has demonstrated time and again that he does not take the task of managing the economic future of this country seriously.

This article originally appeared in Inside Canberra Vol. 66, No. 17

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